Pan-Africanism : What Other Africans and African Americans Say

Discussion in 'Pan-Africanism - African Diaspora' started by napress, Mar 8, 2005.

  1. napress

    napress Member MEMBER

    Mar 7, 2005
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    I just stumbled on this one, and late, in the "Detroit Free Press," March 8, 2005. The article, or the story, first appeared in a previous edition of the same paper on February 24th in celebration of Black History Month and, interestingly enough, and coincidentally, addresses the same subject addressed by Godfrey Mwakikagile in his book "Relations Between Africans and African Americans" which was published in January this year, about a month before Black History Month we celebrate every February. Read on:

    OVERCOMING PERCEPTIONS: African immigrants seek ties, harmony with American blacks

    February 24, 2005



    Felix Asiedu, a co-owner of K&K African Market on Livernois in Detroit, rings up a customer's purchases Feb. 12. Saturday's a busy day as African immigrants come to shop for the comforts of home. Asiedu weighs plantains, which are cooked before they're eaten.

    Onwuka Uchendu hears the questions over and over, from people of all skin tones, but it especially perplexes him when the people asking are black:

    "Did you have shoes? Did you have a car? Do you have buildings?" they pester him about his life in Africa, as if he had just emerged from the bush.

    Uchendu, 50, a Nigerian immigrant who lives in Southfield, often becomes so fatigued by ignorant questions, he no longer denies but embellishes.

    "I say, 'Yes, we have cars, and we have traffic lights, and when they turn green, the cars go through, and when they turn red, the elephants go through,' " he said. "If they want to mock me and embarrass me, then I play the game."

    It's misconceptions like these, say Uchendu and other African immigrants in metro Detroit, that divide some of them not only from other Americans but other African Americans.

    "You can get discrimination from whites and blacks," said Kyrian Nwagwu, 46, an immigrant from Nigeria who became the first African-born councilman in Lathrup Village two years ago. "Some black Americans don't think we're like them or that we're truly black people."

    African immigrants like Uchendu and Nwagwu said they realize such views are not held by all American-born blacks and that efforts are under way to increase understanding.

    But rifts linger. For instance, Uchendu, president of the Old Bende Cultural Association, a group of metro Detroit residents who hail from the former Nigerian province of Bende, said he feels no link to Black History Month.

    "February has no meaning," said Uchendu, a computer engineer on contract with General Motors Corp. "We don't feel a sense of connection."

    The disconnect has become more evident as the population of sub-Saharan African-born immigrants more than tripled -- rising to 7,324 -- in southeast Michigan since 1990, according to the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at the University at Albany in New York. The trend parallels the national increase in immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, which nearly tripled in the 1990s to roughly 600,000.

    There are attempts to reach across the cultural divide via educational programs and business partnerships, but reasons for why gaps and misperceptions emerge at all are about as diverse as the 53 countries of Africa.

    "There's some contentiousness in the black community about black immigrants," said John Logan, a professor of urban sociology and race at Brown University in Rhode Island and coauthor of a 2003 report about black diversity in metropolitan areas. "On the one hand, 'Why aren't they more like us? Why don't they become part of our community? Why are they so separate?' On the other hand, there was a sense that we are all black Americans and we need to stand together.

    "Both are sources of potential division but also reasons for unity."

    Divisive backgrounds

    Beyond divisions created by misplaced stereotypes, other fissures stem from differences in goals, geography, history and income.

    Africans tend to emigrate, Logan said, because they have money or the hope of obtaining degrees and careers that lead to larger incomes and residency in wealthier neighborhoods. He found that African immigrant households nationally have a median income of $42,900 compared with $33,790 for U.S.-born blacks.

    He also found that African immigrants tend to live in whiter neighborhoods. In southeast Michigan, according to data compiled by the Lewis Mumford Center, the population is about 45 percent white where African immigrants live but about 17 percent white where U.S.-born blacks reside.

    Such differences give rise to stereotypes on both sides.

    "Some African Americans born here feel we are too proud, and sometimes we think they're too lazy and not dedicated," Lafor Olabegi, 48, a Nigerian immigrant and entrepreneur from Eastpointe, said recently as he shopped for smoked fish at K & K African Market in northwest Detroit.

    Another who senses the separation is Oria Jackson, 60, a Lathrup Village resident who traces her roots to her family's sharecropper days in the South.

    "It's a feeling. It's the superiority that they present to the Afro American," she said, adding that she still has a good relationship with her neighbor, beautician and chiropractor, all of whom are originally from Africa. "I do feel that, and a lot of it is because of misconception and misunderstanding, mine and in a general sense."

    Fleeting encounters between people help feed the stereotypes, said John White, a national spokesman for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

    Recognition needed

    Creating more understanding requires the recognition of a significant difference in the histories of American-born blacks and African immigrants, said Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C.

    Separation by hundreds of years and the scar of slavery means American-born blacks may feel more removed from Africa and its immigrants, he said.

    Christy Coleman, president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, said both groups should remember they have a heritage of oppression based on African colonization and American slavery -- and their economic, social and political effects.

    "The bottom line is that on the world's stage, the conditions of black and brown people are truly deplorable," she said. "That's a point of commonality with which to work."

    Saying the museum can offer a place to build relationships, she pointed to programming this year with the theme "In the Spirit of Our Ancestors" and to such new, permanent exhibits as "And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture." On Sunday, Brandi Hampton, 28, of Harper Woods studied a topographic map of Africa at the exhibit with her kids, ages 6 and 8. She said she knows few African immigrants but believes strongly in educating herself and her family about Africa.

    "It's a part of our history, where we once came from, despite not being born there," she said.

    Other educational efforts include the Wayne County Community College District's third annual Passport to Africa program, held last month, which highlighted the continent's countries. Organizer David Butty, a Liberian immigrant, said attendance has grown from about 1,500 people the first year to more than 2,300.

    "My goal since coming to this country has been to help Americans to understand," Butty said. "People still think of Africa as one country."

    Last year, the 10th Annual African World Expo, hosted in part by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, brought people to Cobo Center for a five-day U.S.-Africa business summit to discuss trade and investment in sectors such as health care and manufacturing. This year's expo is scheduled for the second week of November at Cobo.

    Other shifts in perspective lie with individuals like Uchendu who, despite having to field frustrating questions about his homeland, has begun to ponder whether immigrants like him should increase their involvement during Black History Month.

    "Maybe there should be changes," he said. "Maybe it's time to blend with the black community here."

    Contact ERIN CHAN at 248-351-3293 or [email protected]